On the American Uprising of 2020
By Doug George-Kanentiio
That an American police force assaults and kills a member of an ethnic minority is not unusual for Native people who have endured murderous and deliberate violence applied upon them by those who are supposed to serve and protect.
In Canada and the US Native people have been attacked and died at the hands of the police, at times in the most brutal of ways. In Saskatchewan a Cree man, Lawrence Wegner, dies after the Saskatoon cops take him on a “starlight tour” in January 2000 and abandon him far from shelter in subzero temperatures to freeze to death.
In March 1972 an Onondaga ironworker named Leroy Shenandoah is shot numerous times by a Philadelphia police officer. After being shot Shenandoah is handcuffed and denied medical assistance leading to his death.
Add to this the hundreds of missing and murdered Native women with little or no attention given by the police in Canada or the US.
There are many other instances where Natives have died in police custody after being targeted by officers which leads to a well-grounded distrust of law enforcement.
In the US the cops have been all too often involved in attacks upon ethnic minorities, particular blacks. George Floyd is but the latest victim and has pushed American citizens across a line of tolerance resulting in the something which is an integral part of American history-massive social protest which, at times, becomes a mob.
In 1968 Native people in Minneapolis could no longer abide the overt racism of the city’s police. In this mostly white city Natives were targeted, arrested and harassed beyond the limits of sufferance so as a matter of necessity an organization was formed to counter the cops and provide the people with security and protection. This was the American Indian Movement and it became an alternative to the Minneapolis police.
The need for AIM was evident in those urban areas where Native people lived in numbers given the lack of trust in the police. It was a response to blatant racism and was successful in deterring police brutality.
Among urban black Americans cop beatings and killings sparked the formation of the Black Panthers which became not only a needed protection for the people but expanded to provide other needs such as food, shelter, education. The US response to both the Panthers and AIM was to apply COINTELPRO, an completely illegal use of intelligence (spying) and infiltration actions by the FBI to undermine and destroy civil rights organizations.
COINTELPRO contributed to the assassinations of Black Panther leaders and the undermining of AIM.
In Iroquois territory there have been serious clashes with the state police who are seen as agents of New York’s anti-Native policies. The state police have been used to dispossess Native people from their lands (Allegany and Tuscarora) and were ready to invade Onondaga in September, 1971 before being redirected to the Attica prison with tragic results.
In Akwesasne the state police entered the territory in 1948 to impose a “tribal council” upon the people followed by other intrusions in 1979 and 1980 when traditional people were arrested and jailed. In 1990 the state police failed to respond to the presence of organized crime at Akwesasne leading to internal chaos and the unresolved murders of two Mohawk men.
Now we have a US president who is attempting to use the police to attack other American citizens. He has called the media as “enemies of the people” so the police have targeted reporters in this latest national uprising. Herr Trump is a notorious racist, so the police respond by shooting black people. The President says the protestors are “mobs” and the cops react by applying massive force against those who stand and march in defiance of police brutality. The President gives outright encouragement to right wing militants who carry their assault weapons into state capitols and now it is being reported elements from that faction are seen starting fires and breaking windows in the hopes of sparking riots.
All of this leads to the current situation when most avenues of reform and justice are closed to those in greatest need. There does not seem to be effective moderation elements capable of initiating the changes necessary to restore faith and confidence in policing in areas where people of color live.
It is far too easy to label the protestors as criminals and rioters and thereby obscure the real concerns which cause people to stand and risk their lives in defense of their constitutional liberties despite the threats of the US president to impose martial law. All of this has been accelerated by COVID-19 making for a nation both desperate and angry. A long, hot, explosive summer is just beginning.